Survivor Oz Top 10-Top 10 Most Controversial Survivor Moments


It’s mid-week, so we thought we’d give you a treat with another Survivor Oz Top Ten! Today, one of our newest Ozlets, Julian Groneberg, counts down ten of the biggest controversies seen on Survivor so far. These include moments that occurred not only on screen, but off screen as well, both before and after the show had aired. So which scandals will be deemed shock-worthy enough to earn a spot on this list? You’ll have to read on to find out!

From sexual scandals to racial twists, to seemingly trivial moments that later caused a massive negative response, there’s no doubt that over 28 seasons, Survivor has brought us more than its fair share of controversial moments. Some of these controversies have been confected by the show’s producers for the purposes of ratings; many others, however, became controversial from the viewers’ reactions to them – either because they were deemed unfair or in some way unjust. Other Survivor scandals were a direct result from the actions of the players themselves and made for some very entertaining and memorable TV.

Either way, all of the below were controversial in some way, shape or form, and would be subject to debate among fans, the show’s producers and the Survivor players themselves. So without further ado, here are the top ten controversial moments (so far) that Survivor has seen in its impressive fourteen year run.

10. Colby Taking Coral from Reef


In one of the biggest Rewards offered in the show’s history (until that point), Colby and Jerri from Survivor: Australia travelled by chopper to one of the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and frolicked along the beach, enjoying time out from the usual confines of their camp and giving Jerri a chance to turn up her flirting volume. However, in an attempt to further ingratiate himself with his fellow tribe mates, Colby collected six pieces of coral to give to the remaining players back at camp.

Unbeknownst to the show’s production team, it was illegal to remove coral from the protected marine sanctuary without a permit, and a maximum (and very significant) fine of up to $110,000 could have been incurred. Prosecution was threatened after the episode aired, as authorities were concerned others visiting the marine park would follow suit and collect coral. The oversight and controversy was easily extinguished by a quick apology from Mark Burnett himself for the honest mistake. No fines were issued, most likely because of the many financial benefits from filming in the far North Queensland region that the series had brought.

9. Andria Herd Car Controversy


In the last time we would ever see the car Reward Challenge, Survivor: Fiji brought us a car controversy that would later be discussed, dissected and defended until the cows came home. It all started with a deal that Yau-Man made after winning a new 2008 Ford Super Duty truck. Yau-Man gave it to tribe mate Dreamz, who was desperate for a new car, under the proviso that he take him to the Final Three should he win the Final Immunity Challenge.

As it played out, Dreamz did end up winning the Final Immunity Challenge, but he went back on his word to Yau-Man, who was then voted out with no Final Three position and no car as a consolation prize. Dreamz later defended his decision, but for many fans, it was a dog act. To others that supported Dreamz, they made the very valid point that when it comes to Survivor, anything goes.

8. Pearl Island’s Returning Outcast Tribe


Before we saw players return in subsequent seasons, we saw players return in a way that many debated was the most unfair twist ever to be used in the show. The Outcast twist would be hotly debated as being unfair, especially to the other members of the Pearl Islands cast who were not offered the same opportunity. In the eighth episode of the season, two players of the previously voted off Outcast tribe were invited to return back to the game, which would have massive implications when the tribes merged soon after.

Despite some declaring Burton’s worthiness to return, his and Lillian’s re-entry definitely came at a cost to Andrew Savage and Ryan Opray; and although it made for good television, it is, to this day, one of the most controversial decisions made in relation to the show’s format.

7. America’s Tribal Council


It’s no secret that Survivor icon Rupert Boneham was given a very favourable edit during his debut in the seventh season, Pearl Islands. What he made in great TV resulted in him dubbed as the ‘darling child’ of the show’s producers and CBS after being selected for All-Stars – the first player to appear in back-to-back seasons.

Though he did not win either season, All-Stars was the only season to date to award two one million dollar prizes, with Rupert winning the America’s Tribal Council and the additional one million dollars. Despite being a favourite at that time with many fans, this was bemoaned by many others as nothing but a popularity contest and an excuse for CBS to reward the ratings he brought to season seven and eight.

Fortunately, the America’s Tribal Council twist was not repeated in subsequent seasons, since it would no doubt influence the way players went into the show and their on-screen behaviour.

6. The Ted and Ghandia Incident


Who touched who, where and why? That was the big question of the late night grinding and fondling session in Thailand, which led Ghandia to accusing Ted of sexual improprieties that made her feel uncomfortable; and this made for similarly uncomfortable viewing by the audience watching on television. Part of the reason we’re still not entirely sure who to believe, or what version of events is the correct one, is because we never saw the actual ‘grinding’ take place on screen or saw the complete context of the incident.

Thankfully both parties have long since put the issue behind them, but there was no doubt that the incident divided many viewers. Many still claim Ghandia invited the grinding and faked outrage afterwards, while others lay the blame purely on Ted, saying his excuse that he was dreaming and mistook Ghandia for his wife didn’t quite gel. What makes this incident so controversial is the fact that it sparked a larger gender discussion on what is acceptable and not acceptable between the sexes, with many unable to understand why Ghandia was so distraught in the first place.

5. Sue Hawk and Richard Hatch Incident


Following the sexual improprieties of Thailand, another uncomfortable sexual incident in All-Stars resulted in planned legal action between long time player Sue Hawk and CBS for not providing a ‘safe environment.’

It all started during a challenge when Sue and Richard (known for playing challenges in the buff) got up close and a little too personal. Sue later went into a downward spiral, seemingly unable to cope with the genital contact that occurred during the challenge.

Following Hatch being voted out for other reasons, Sue alleged she was completely humiliated and sexually violated by Hatch, and later voluntarily left the show, not before unleashing a tirade of drama on Jeff Probst in one very ugly, controversial and memorable exit. While most people agree that Hatch’s behaviour was fairly inappropriate, most also recognise that the incident was not meant in malice or to cause humiliation to Sue. It’s doubtful that Richard would have tried the same on any other cast member but Sue, with whom he had previously had a long and fairly amicable history with from playing the game together in season one.

4. The Cook Islands Racial Twist


The lead up to season thirteen in the Cook Islands was marred by controversy after the announcement that the tribes would be divided along racial lines, which caused many US advertisers to dump their association with CBS and Survivor. While the subsequent season would go on to be considered one of the best of all time, and the separation by racial lines was quickly dissolved, there’s no doubt that as sponsors left the show, this was one controversy that was not going to be soon forgotten. A heated discussion was sparked on whether this twist would perpetuate stereotypes and do nothing to promote the unity of different racial groups in America.

Jeff Probst would go on to say the decision was made to boost diversity after the show had been criticised for favouring white Americans and casting few racial minorities. However, many critics were cynical of the twist, labelling it a desperate attempt for ratings. In the end, the racial segregation into four tribes only proved that race would have little to do with what strategy and gameplay would form throughout the season.

3. Coercion to Influence the Tribal Council Outcome in Borneo


The aftermath of Survivor: Borneo was marred by controversy when former contestant and third voted off, Stacey Stillman, filed a lawsuit against CBS for fraud. Stillman claimed that Mark Burnett had unfairly coerced Sean and Dirk into voting against Stillman when it appeared that Rudy would be the next voted out.

While some labelled the revelation as a case of sour grapes, some of the accusations leveled at CBS are compelling, including the fact that Rudy and Burnett worked together on another of Burnett’s productions, ‘Eco Challenge’, in 1998. CBS denied the allegations and the unlawful influence charges, and in the end, the claims made were unsubstantiated. However, still to this day, many remain unconvinced that Burnett didn’t attempt to sway the vote to keep a player that he knew would make good TV.

According to Dirk and Sean, however, Mark Burnett told them to vote with their conscience, which without knowing the full context of what else was said, can be taken many different ways.

2. Caramoan Reunion Show


The Caramoan Reunion show caused massive controversy when the pre-Jury cast members were not invited to sit on the stage for the show. This was despite all cast members being invited to be on stage over each of the previous 25 seasons. According to CBS this was because of a limited stage size to seat everyone, but many of the excluded players from Survivor: Caramoan who were forced to sit in the audience were unconvinced. They claimed it was to give more screen time to favourite returnees, or to hide Brandon Hantz’s absence.

Whatever the reason, it made for one of the worst Reunion shows ever. The weak excuse from Probst and CBS for the small stage size just didn’t wash and only added more fuel to this very recent Survivor controversy, which still sticks in our minds as an exercise that should never be repeated.

1. Jonny Fairplay and the Dead Grandmother Revelation


The biggest Survivor controversy set the standard for devious play, which divided popular opinion at the time, and still remains one of the show’s most memorable moments ever! The story about how he lied about his grandmother’s death is well known, but the decision to play up the biggest lie in Survivor history was a strategic move that was designed to garner sympathy from his tribe mates, who allowed him to win the Reward Challenge after hearing the news.

There’s no doubt that this set the standard for villainous and deceitful behaviour, which wouldn’t be replicated until Russell Hantz’s appearance on Survivor: Samoa more than five years later. Many people, however, maintain that when it comes to the dog eat dog game of Survivor, all is fair in love, war and fake dead grandmothers.

However, this moment would become just as famous as the character of Jonny Fairplay himself, and when you think of Survivor controversy, this had all the hallmarks of an incident that would be synonymous with controversy. This is mainly due to the reaction against Fairplay himself, who was labelled despicable, scum and the most vile person to ever play the game. Controversial genius, or despicable scum? I guess that’s depends on what you value.


What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!

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29 Comments on Survivor Oz Top 10-Top 10 Most Controversial Survivor Moments

  1. Dawn’s decision to vote out Brenda in Caramoan was very controverisal. After the incident, Brenda became the first contestant to trend worldwide on Twitter and Dawn became the most hated Survivor contestant of all time and she was hounded on social media for it.

    • yea i remember being soo mad at dawn for that. and even though i didnt have twitter i supported the dawn hate. brenda and malcolm were my favorites to win. i get that it was strategic because brenda is a challenge threat and likeable its just she gave so much to her tribe and to just backstab her like that….like rob with lex they should have just waited one more tribal council to vote them off so it doesnt seem as despicable and more strategic.

    • mrscongeniality // April 17, 2014 at 1:14 am // Reply

      Yes, before reading I assumed the Dawn/Brenda thing would be included in the list; but I don’t know which other one you would take out if so!

  2. Great top 10! I like the balance between events that occurred during the seasons and one surrounding the seasons.

  3. Good list. I’d probably takeout the Caramoan reunion though and add in Twila swearing on her son, or the purple rock in Marquesas, or the fallen comrades challenge in Africa as these all had a bigger affect on the outcome of the game.

    • I think the Caramoan reunion definitely deserves a place. There is far more to it than just what is discussed in this article. You should look up Allie Pohevitz’s post about it.

  4. What about Brandon’s meltdown? I thought for sure that’d be at number 1.

    • Thanks for a great read Julian. I agree with cheese. I remember it also impacted the reunion show. Also from that reunion show, there were no pre-jury members on stage.

    • 1. None of the pre-jury cast members were on stage at the reunion show that year
      2. No Brandon at the at the reunion show or mentioning of his name
      3. Russell Hantz threatening to sue CBS because of Mr FBI man.

  5. Love the article Julian! Very well thought and engaging to read 😉

  6. how about the Brenda and dawn incident???

  7. Surprised the producers screwing up a Fallen Comrades answer in Africa didn’t make the list.

  8. I´ll add Marquesas´ purple rock and RI being rigged. Great list!

  9. Great list; but I think the fact that Burnett used stunt doubles for long shots in the first two seasons is a massive controversy that turned people off the ‘reality’ of the show…

  10. I know Redemption Island is hog wash, but where’s Phillip pulling the race card on rice wars?? Was way worse than Sue IMO because at least Sue had a case. Phillip was just pulling things out of his pink undies

  11. The Fallen Comrades challenge from Africa should definitely have made the top 10…
    Colton’s commentaries toward Bill could also have been mentionned. The deleting of the Rites of Passage could have been another entry.

  12. “While the subsequent season would go on to be considered one of the best of all time”

    Lmao. Is this a joke?

  13. “the racial segregation into four tribes only proved that race would have little to do with what strategy and gameplay would form throughout the season.”

    This is also bullsh*t. We all know that Sundracist was out for white blood.

  14. The dreams yau man controversy should be higher. It’s the most memorable moment from Fiji.

  15. ScottWatchesSurvivor // April 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm // Reply

    I wasn’t aware of the Borneo scandal and will have to do some research on that. Any Survivor Oz podcasts that talk (in detail) about it?

    I think this post is a great contribution to the discussion on Survivor and can’t describe how annoyed I still am at production for sitting pre-jury in the audience. I’ll never forget that.

    And yet, some things are still going smoothly. We are currently in the middle of one of the best Survivor runs of all time, IMO. Here’s to continuing the streak! Cheers!

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